Let's throw it back to the 2002-03 season, the debut season for former left wing and captain Rick Nash
, and also the first season in Columbus for a veteran center named Andrew Cassels
Cassels, a native of Mississauga, Ont., was brought in for the 2002 season to complement Nash as well as ramp up the scoring for the Blue Jackets. He also become a character player on the team, a respected voice in the dressing room with 12 years of NHL experience prior to arriving in Columbus.
“I brought (Cassels) in to play with Rick Nash, to be quite honest,” former Blue Jackets president, general manager and head coach Doug MacLean told BlueJackets.com
. “I thought he’d be a great fit for Nash, and actually they had great years together.
“He was an experienced guy who was a playmaker, and a real quality guy. Andrew put up good points, he was good in the dressing room, and a popular player on the team. He was just a real good guy, and gave us a couple of real good years.”
The former Blue Jackets center was one of the best centers in team history despite playing in Columbus for just two seasons. During his first year in Columbus, he racked up 68 points (20 goals and 48 assists), the second best total of his career, which was trumped only by his 85-point campaign with Hartford in 1992-93.
When reflecting on his time in Columbus, Cassels remembers the city being extremely enthusiastic about the team, especially because it had just been established in 2000.
“It was a new sport to the area, and obviously with Ohio State being how big they are, the support that they gave us was incredible,” he said. “It was one of my most favorite arenas to play in, the fans were just great, it was sold out every night, and they definitely were a part of a lot of wins that we had back then.”
After retiring from the NHL
in 2006, Cassels went right into coaching and made a few stops around the minor leagues
before joining the Cincinnati Cyclones (ECHL) as an assistant coach for one season. Cassels now spends his summers working for Morgan Construction in Columbus, and during hockey season, he's taken on a coaching role with the AAA Blue Jackets
From his time spent in central Ohio both as a player and now a full-time resident, Cassels has witnessed hockey's significant growth in the region - especially during the last two years of Blue Jackets hockey. Although the team didn’t see Stanley Cup playoff action until five years after he left the team, Cassels thinks the team is now headed in the right direction and has the potential to compete - and win in - the playoffs every season.
“When they made the playoffs (in 2009) I think people got a taste of playoff hockey,” Cassels said. “Expectations became higher, and when they missed the playoffs it seemed like everyone was disappointed. I think that it should be expectations now and moving forward to be in the playoffs every year.
“I think especially how hard they played Pittsburgh, it showed that it’s a young and upcoming team, with young players like Boone (Jenner)
and Ryan (Murray)
. There’s a great base there with the young guys, and they’ve got that blue-collared work ethic that I think is going to go a long way in this community. I think it’s a group that if they stay together, they’re going to get better every year and hopefully make longer runs in the playoffs each year until they get to that Cup and win it.”